Sports photographers use various lenses, but the most common types are midrange ones with a wide maximum aperture. In sports with a large playing area, long-range super telephoto lenses are also common.
I’m Caleb, and I have over four years of sports photography experience. I’ve shot games in several sports at the semi-pro and college levels, giving me a pretty good idea of what equipment will get the job done.
In this article, I’ll break down the lenses different types of sports photographers use. If you’re considering buying a lens for sports photography, read this info first to ensure you’re getting the right one.
Type of Lens Used for Sports Photography
The lenses sports photographers use vary a lot, but they usually have one thing in common: a wide maximum aperture.
Sports photographers generally shoot with a wide aperture because it allows them to use higher shutter speeds without underexposure, and they usually choose lenses accordingly.
F/2.8 is usually the desired max aperture for sports photography lenses, but some shorter ranged wide angle lenses go below that number and have max apertures like f/1.8.
This is why many of the top sports photography lenses are more expensive than counterparts with similar focal lengths.
The increase in cost comes from the wider aperture, but getting an f/2.8 lens will be well worth the money if you’re serious about sports photography.
What should you look for other than a wide maximum aperture? That largely depends on the sports you want to focus on.
Indoor Sports Lenses
For indoor sports like basketball or hockey, you have a pretty good range of lens options that can all get the job done.
Some photographers prefer 24-70mm lenses, as these will usually have enough range for close-ups without having too long of a focal length.
Too much zoom can be just as much of a problem as not having any at all, as your lens will be out of focus when the players are closer to you.
This is especially a problem with fast-paced sports like basketball, where players often move up and down the court.
You can also use a 70-200mm lens when photographing indoor sports for more range and closer shots when the players are further away from you.
But depending on where you’re taking pictures from, you might have problems staying in focus when the players are closer.
Outdoor Sports Lenses
Outdoor sports often have a larger playing area than indoor ones, making them suited to longer ranged lenses than their indoor counterparts.
70-200mm lenses are very suitable for these kinds of sports and are some of the most common lenses overall for sports photography.
Depending on your sport and where you’re shooting from, these lenses might leave a bit to be desired when it comes to catching action happening in the middle of the field.
If you’re shooting from the sideline or either end of the field, a 70-200mm lens is excellent for capturing plays headed in your direction.
Lenses with a shorter focal length can definitely do the job, but they’ll probably leave you wanting more range at certain points.
Super Telephoto Lenses
Super telephoto lenses are less common thanks to their price, but they have an established niche in sports photography.
These lenses have long focal lengths, such as 400mm, 600mm, or beyond, and they’re some of the priciest ones.
There are cheaper super telephoto lenses out there that have narrower maximum apertures, but these aren’t good for sports photography due to the higher aperture demands.
Sports photographers use super telephoto lenses to get close images even when the athletes are further away. They’re common in sports like soccer, where the middle of the field is far from the usual photography positions.
They’re also used in sports where the photographers are located away from the action, such as racing. Standing right next to a racetrack is dangerous, so these longer-ranged lenses can help get close-up shots from a safer distance.
You definitely don’t need a super telephoto lens to succeed as a sports photographer, but if you’re willing to spend a lot to get a good one, you can get shots that other photographers can’t.
Here are some other frequently asked questions about sports photography lenses.
What Is The Best Type Of Lens For Baseball Photography?
Baseball is played on a large field, so longer ranged and super telephoto lenses are usually a good option. This partly depends on the venue. You might not need more than a 70-200mm lens in smaller high school and college fields.
What Is The Best Budget Lens For Sports Photography?
Budget lenses, in general, are often lacking for sports photography, which is a demanding niche when it comes to lenses. Your best budget option is probably getting a used 24-70 or 70-200mm lens, preferably an older model like the Canon 70-200mm EF lens.
What Is The Best Lens For Indoor Sports Photography?
The best lens for indoor sports photography is usually an f/2.8 24-70mm lens. Most major manufacturers make these lenses, and the specific model doesn’t really matter as long as it’s compatible with your camera’s lens mount.
A wide variety of lenses are used in sports photography, but most top options share the common trait of a wide aperture. Common ranges vary, usually depending on the size of the playing area in each specific sport.
Have you ever done sports photography or another kind of action photography? What kind of lens did you use? Let us know in the comments.